Instead of talking today about my progeny, I’m going to say something about my grandfathers.
Because it is Veteran’s Day and the sacrifices they and others have given for our country should be honored and talked about.
I admit, I know little about the military. I was never an army brat. My father somehow lucked out as an ROTC officer and missed going to Vietnam. In true irony, his number was low, but they had more officers than enlisted men at the time, so he wasn’t sent.
My mother was in ROTC (or whatever the female equivalent) before I was born. Neither stayed in the military.
My uncle, my mom’s brother, did stay, and retired at age 50 a Lieutenant Colonel. He never served on “active” duty because of his field.
But my grandfathers… Both served in World War II.
My Grandpa Fred served in the army.
Sadly, I don’t know a lot about his years in the military. He never spoke about it. He passed away before I graduated college and lived in Arkansas for most of my life. This meant perhaps only one or two visits a year. It was before the days of internet and video conferencing: snail mail and phone calls were the only options, and my grandmother was typically the one to participate in those activities.
It wasn’t until my father gave Grandpa Fred’s eulogy that I discovered how lucky I am to even exist.
Grandpa Fred served in Europe. And his job? Driving a gasoline truck.
My maternal grandfather, G-pa, was a Navy man.
G-pa joined the Navy before he was technically legal to do so. He was one of eight kids during the Great Depression. The Navy was an escape to a better life.
Within the last ten years or so, G-pa has opened up and started talking about his military service. He’s 87 years old, and wants to share the stories so that people will remember and share them. So all of his friends that didn’t make it are remembered.
Again, I learned that it truly is a miracle I even exist.
G-pa was “chosen” to be a part of the very new Under Water Demolition Team. And by chosen I mean “Whoever does not have a wife or children waiting for you, please step forward.”
Why? Because the risk was so incredibly high. They were the early version of what would later become the Navy SEALs.
G-pa served on a submarine in the Pacific for most of his duty, something I can’t even imagine.
He has good memories of some of it: like getting a box of dominoes which were a huge hit in the rec/mess hall. G-pa is something of a MacGyver – despite little schooling – he just sees a need and finds something to fix it. He built a casing to hold the dominoes on the table so they wouldn’t go flying on the floor during maneuvers.
There were other things though, that I cannot imagine ever doing.
Fighting for your life being only one of them.
He told of how they transferred you to another submarine. I don’t know if this was Standard Operating Procedure, or something for his team in particular, but it stuck with me.
They put you in a raft. With chained weights.
If a sub surfaced and it wasn’t one of ours, you were supposed to throw yourself over the side rather than risk you and your information getting into enemy hands.
The waiting to be picked up – not knowing if The Right Side would find you – can you even imagine that?
He fought in Japan. He was there when the flag was raised at Iwo Jima. Twice. Once for “real.” Once for the photo op, where one of his team members was chosen to participate.
On G-pa’s 80th birthday we viewed a slide show of photos from his tour.
G-pa would point at the three jubilant guys grinning in the photos with him. His buddies. He’d tell a story about them. Then almost always it was followed by, “He was killed in action four days later. And he died a few weeks later at (insert battle here).”
He was on at least one ship that was hit by a torpedo and was forced wait in the water to be picked up.
My G-pa didn’t stop at World War II, either. He also served in Korea.
He shipped out when my mom was a baby. And when he came back, it took her a while to warm up to him, because she initially had no idea who That Strange Guy was.
I look at my Lil Diva and try to imagine how it would feel if she didn’t know me, or CG – and it breaks my heart.
I hope nowadays, with the technology advances, skyping, facetime, etc, that those active duty parents are able to at least bond better with their families while so far away, doing their duty for their country.
“All gave some. Some gave all.”
My G-pa survived, even with odds against him. Most of his friends didn’t.
Thank you G-pa for your service to this country. It is unfathomable to me some of the things you experienced. The sacrifices you made. You are an amazing person and I’m forever grateful that I was able to grow up with you and G-ma living so close.
Grandpa Fred, if you’re watching from somewhere, know that I miss you and wish I’d had a chance to really talk to you as an adult. To get to know you better. You and Grandma B raised six amazing children and as I struggle with my day to day parenting, know that I look to you both for inspiration.
Please, take a moment on Veteran’s Day to honor those Veterans, both past and present, who helped fight to make a better life for us.
There is an excellent post here, detailing a more inside look of what military life is like.